The Simplest, But Most Often Overlooked Eating for IBD Strategy

When you’re dealing with Crohn’s and colitis, it feels like a constant state of eat this not that. Should I be gluten free or grain free? What are the ingredients in that? Can I have that ingredient? Am I having a reaction to that food? How do I know?

So much to consider when it comes to eating for your health in a way that supports and heals your Crohn’s or colitis.

Today we’re going in a completely different direction. A direction that doesn’t care what eating plan you’re on. A direction that has nothing to do with what you eat, but has everything to do with HOW you eat.

Three Things You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • How many times experts tell you to chew the food in your mouth before you swallow (this number is going to shock you)
  • The before, during, and after eating plan that gives your body what it need to digest food properly
  • The best way to get your digestion working effectively before you even take your first bite of food

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Episode Transcript:

When you’re dealing with Crohn’s and colitis, it feels like a constant state of eat this not that. Should I be gluten free or grain free? What are the ingredients in that? Can I have that ingredient? Am I having a reaction to that food? How do I know?

So much to consider when it comes to eating for your health in a way that supports and heals your Crohn’s or colitis.

Today we’re going in a completely different direction. A direction that doesn’t care what eating plan you’re on. A direction that has nothing to do with what you eat, but has everything to do with HOW you eat.


Hey now, welcome to the episode, take a load of and join me for a little while today while we sip some tea maybe and enjoy this time together. I’m grateful to have you here with me today. I’m in my podcasting space in my office, I’ve got my black sweatpants on with my Wicked t-shirt (you know the musical?) I can’t believe it but I saw Wicked in London with Indina Menzel (way before frozen) This must have been 2005, 2006…) I had no idea who she was but I knew she had the best voice I had ever heard in my life. Wow, what powerhouse, right? How about you, how’s your day going? Are you rushing about? Are you taking care of the kiddos or are you taking care of yourself with some downtime? Whatever you’re doing, I hope you’re doing it in comfortable clothes like me. Cause IBD gals deserve comfortable clothes.

Can I get an amen?

OK my dear, let’s get into it because we have a different episode today. You know the cheeky podcast is the place to be for all things IBD food related. And with all the gut healing diets we’ve talked about on this podcast, what more is there to say? Haven’t we covered it all? Well, first of all, I can’t imagine we could cover it all. There’s so much to say on the topic of food and IBD. But today I want to go in a completely different direction. A direction that doesn’t care what eating plan your on. A direction that has nothing to do with what you eat, but has everything to do with HOW you eat.

Because how you eat is just as important as what you eat. It’s a topic we’ve yet to dive into, but it’s a big one and it can have instant and profound effects on each and every one of your IBD symptoms. Top to bottom, inside to outside the body. And the important how you eat topic I want to tackle today is chewing.


OK, it’s not the sexiest topic. And I’ll start this episode off with a warning:  You’re going to hear words like saliva and mucus. I promise as little as possible, and I’ll also try to make this episode as short and sweet because no one wants to hear those words over and over. But when it comes to Crohn’s, colitis, and living as healthy as we can, just like that P word we have to dive into sometimes (you know the one), occasionally saliva has to come up in conversation too.

One thing I’ve learned in my 35 plus years with IBD is that the more comfortable we get with talking about digestion from mouth to anus, the healthier we will be. So we’ll grin and bear it together—because the chewing part of digestion (yes, chewing is actually a part of digestion) is just as important as the pooping part of digestion.

If you’ve taken biology in high school, or maybe even Anatomy and Physiology in college, you probably remember hearing that digestion begins in the mouth. But actually, if you want to get really technical about it, digestion starts before we even put something in our mouth.

Think about your favorite food.

What’s that food for you? For me, right now (because it tends to change) it’s a toss up between this amazing veggie omlette I can’t get enough of. It’s made from eggs, right from the chicken fresh, with all my favorite veggies or chateaubriand—this really great cut of steak that’s so tender, it melts in your mouth like butter. Just thinking about either of those foods gets my salivary glands working. What food does that for you?

Proteins, minerals, digestive enzymes and of course mucus (and I promise, that’s it for that word) are found in your saliva and are all the beginnings of digestion. Just this simple act of thinking about the food you love or smelling the aroma of food starts digestion in your body, before you even take a bite.

Salivary amylase (that’s one of those digestive enzymes) it helps breakdown food in your mouth to prepare it for its next stage on the journey to being used as nutrients and energy for your body.

Now, if you’re dehydrated when you eat, this process can’t work as efficiently as it normally would so tip #1 for mindfully chewing to help your IBD is to make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day. It actually helps your mouth digestion breakdown your food more efficiently so you can then use those nutrients for health and energy.

Our bodies, being designed so amazingly, already know instinctively how to break down the fat, protein, and carbohydrates in our food to provide our body with the nutrients we need. Of course, this is a little more complicated when it comes to those of use with Crohn’s and colitis because the breaking down and absorbing of nutrients is more of a challenge for us, but our body in theory still knows what to do.

Of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, carbs take the most work which is why carbohydrate digestion and the starch breakdown of those carbs starts in the mouth. These broken down starches turn into sugar that our body can use for energy. The more we chew these foods, the sweeter they become. Definitely an incentive to chew your food well because we all like that sweet taste in our mouth.

Now if you’re thinking, all this talk about carbohydrates doesn’t pertain to me because I don’t eat carbs or I’m on a low carb diet like Paleo or SCD, or Keto, think again. Those of us on gut healing diets that don’t include grains like bread and pasta still consume carbohydrates. Nuts, legumes, fruits, vegetables all contain carbohydrates. Sure some have less than others, but even on a gut healing diet, you’re eating some amount of carbohydrate. And the breakdown of that carbohydrate begins well before it enters your stomach or even your small intestine. It begins in the mouth. By the time you take your first bite of food, the saliva is there, ready to start processing and digesting even as you complete the simple action of chewing.

Now, I’m sure for you this has all been mildly interesting but you’re probably wondering what does all of this have to do with Crohn’s and colitis. The salivary glands, the digestive enzymes, the amylase… I’m so glad you asked because the answer is OH SO MUCH!

When we take the simple but overlooked process of chewing our food seriously and we give our body the time chewing deserves, we’ve already broken our food down, made less work for the rest of our digestive system (so it can focus on healing not fighting this inner digestion battle which can lead to more inflammation, bacterial imbalance, and then dysregulated immune function), instead with proper chewing, your food has the power to digest easier, more efficiently and then all those nutrients digestion creates have the power to become absorbed into your body so you feel healthy and strong, from the inside out.

It all starts with mindful chewing of your food, whatever food you eat. How you chew your food matters to the overall impact of how you experience your Crohn’s and colitis.

Make sense?

Just think about it. Let’s say you’re in a rush. The kind of rush we moms are often in. The after school but before soccer practice rush when the kids are hastily getting homework done, you’re trying to find the practice uniform and when you finally find it stuffed under (not in) their dresser. It’s smelly and dirty and you’re running it to a quick wash cycle in the washing machine all while cooking dinner and yelling out answers to questions from kids 2 rooms over. Questions like, “Hey mom, how do you spell stegosaurus?” And “Hey mom, when I divide 587 by 23, which number goes side the bracket?” The quick, but healthy chicken dish you lovingly prepared ends up sitting on the table 15 minutes before you need to rush out the door.

Picture that meal going down.

Large chunks of food barely hitting the mouth before moving into the esophagus (chewing, what’s chewing?), stressed eating environment, looking at the clock ever 2 minutes… “We’re gonna be late, we’re gonna be late.” Not pretty for your digestion or your IBD right?

So the first thing I have to say before we even get into the meat of this chewing topic is that I’m a busy mom too. I get it. I hear you yelling at your phone right now. How do I possibly have the time to chew mindfully? I get that life isn’t perfect and that our chewing sometimes needs to be rushed, but here’s the thing about gut health and really anything that needs improving in your life. We have to have insight first, and after insight we can strive to do the best we can do.

So after all of this information you’ll hear about proper, mindful chewing I’m sharing with you today, if you end up with insight (because let’s face it, for most people the quality of chewing their food and its impact of the health of their IBD is just not something most give much thought to) and if after today you make a promise to yourself to go for B+ mom chewing status, that’s seriously about the best any of us can hope for.

OK, so let’s say you’re living in a perfectly balanced bubble of a no rush world. I know, you don’t live there but we have to start somewhere, then you can adjust to what works for you and your situation and that may even change depending on the day. So in a perfect world, what would chewing your food to help your Crohn’s and colitis symptoms look like? Well, there’s 5 general guidelines we want to keep in mind when it comes to chewing our food mindfully and properly. And then there’s my before eating-during eating-and after eating tips to make sure chewing your food well becomes a habit for you before you know it.

First, let’s talk about your 5 chewing well, chewing mindfully, general guidelines.

  1. Ideally, when we’re talking about chewing, your aim is to strive for 30-50 chews for each bite of food. I know, that seems like a lot, but next time you to count it. I bet you chew more than you realize. When I have my clients try this experiment, they usually tell me that they find they chew about 15-20 times for each bite they swallow so 30 isn’t that much of a stretch. 50 is a lot. Remember, we’re striving for B+ here, not perfect.
  2. Chew until your food becomes liquidy in your mouth before you swallow. Have you ever paid attention to how liquidy your food is before you swallow? It’s something that takes conscious thought, at least initially. The more chewing, the more your food is broken down before you swallow. Super masticated food means less work for your esophagus, your stomach, and your small intestine and then more absorption of those much needed nutrients for those of us with IBD. So chew until your food is liquidy, then swallow.
  3. Eat as many meals as you can with family and friends. Studies show that when we eat with others, we actual improve our digestion. So maybe that hectic weeknight I mentioned earlier isn’t the best example of this, but think picnics with friends, Sunday brunches with family and as many family meal nights as you can manage. B+ work all the way.
  4. Listen to your mama’s wisdom and chew with your mouth closed. Less open mouth eating means less gas for you—out of both ends!
  5. This last tip is your saving grace when you’re in a hurry. I have to have one tip in there specifically for us busy mamas. When you are forced to eat fast, be sure you take deep breaths as you eat. This simple act makes you relax and take time to chew your food. You will not only get more nutrients from your food, but you’ll enjoy the taste of your food more too.

Now let’s talk specifics.

How can you make sure you are chewing your food slowly and mindfully throughout the whole meal?

First, before you eat:

  1. Wash your hands. Of course, you want to eat with clean hands before touching your food, but also the ritual of washing your hands before you eat signals to your mind that you are transitioning to a new task. One that has the potential to bring you health and wellbeing.
  2. Turn off the TV, no phones or other devices at the table. This is a great rule for mates as well as families. Turn your attention away from distractions and into each other while you prepare to eat. I don’t know about your kids, but our kids suck with transitions. To help them better transition from electronics to mealtime, we used to have our kids turn off devices 30 minutes before eating. It made a big difference in the energy they brought to the table. And their calm energy always benefits your digestion.
  3. Set a clean and quiet table to eat. No one wants to eat with books or papers piled around them. A clean table sets the tone for a calm meal.
  4. Light a candle and place it in the middle of the table—it could be for date night, but it could also work for Sunday dinner or just dinner if you like. I have a friend who always has candles lit when we go to her house for dinner. I’m a huge fan of candles anyway so I find it an extra special touch that just sooths me when it’s there. Be careful with your meal candles though, you don’t want an overpowering scent competing with the aroma of the food.
  5. Take a few deep breaths for yourself before you sit down. A good 4-7-8 breath works. You’re just calming your energy before you sit down.
  6. Say a prayer or have a moment of gratitude before you eat. Whether you are by yourself or with family and friends, having a moment of grace or gratitude before you eat changes your whole demeanor and sets you up for a well digested meal. I love it when we do a round of gratitude at our dinner table with my family. It’s a great jumping off point for conversation and always leads to a positive dinner experience, even for my rowdy boys.
  7. Lastly, when you sit down to eat, think about your posture. Shoulders hunched, slouched posture does not make for good digestion. Straighten your shoulders, align your posture and remember to breathe.

During the meal, here’s the best way to help yourself chew those 30 bites before swallowing:

  1. Place a bite of food in your mouth—not too big a bite.
  2. Then put your utensil down. Chew, chew, chew… making sure it becomes liquidy.
  3. It may even help to put your hands in your lap as you chew or clasp your hand together. It keeps you from taking another bite until you have swallowed the last one.
  4. Consciously breath as you eat. I don’t know about you, but I often think to myself as I’m eating, huh, I’ve stopped breathing. Reminding myself to breath, especially when I feel like I’m in a hurry always helps settle me down to better digestion.
  5. Be present—with the food (how does it taste, smell, feel on your tongue, what memories and emotions does it evoke?) and be present with those around you. (enjoy the conversation, the laughter, even the moments of silence with these people you care so much about).
  6. If you find yourself feeling distracted, deliberately look at your food or even close your eyes for a moment to feel fully present with this meal. I know that might sound weird or corny but I’ve tried it, it really does help.

After the meal is over:

  1. Say thank you to the cook (even if it’s yourself)
  2. Don’t be in such a rush to go your separate ways. When you have a few minutes, take that time to sit, chat, enjoy each others company for a bit. I have to say that this is a weird area in my house. Growing up in my big Italian family, we always sat after we ate. We’d sit and sit and just talk and laugh and tell stories— plates would sit until eventually my grandmother would give the marching orders for who would do what to help pick up. My husband’s family never lingered while he was growing up. It was eat and then get up. Sometimes when we eat with them I’m the only one left at the table because I eat so slow—30 chews per bite! Even though we’ve tried to come to a compromise with our own family, I can tell how antsy my hubby gets when my family is over. He tolerates it for a while, but eventually he’ll always get up. Thankfully it’s to start the dishes so it’s a win for everyone.
  3. Lastly, if you have time, take a walk or a stroll after you eat. It’s so good for your digestion and your IBD. Help your body to process, digest and then absorb the nutrients in the food you just ate by moving around. Of course I’m not talking a spin on the trampoline or cartwheels, this is strictly stroll time. Just enough movement to feel comforted. It really can help the gas and bloating many of us get after meals.

OK, that’s a wrap on chewing and intentionally eating in a way to help your body digest and absorb your food so it has a positive impact on your crohn’s and colitis. With all the gut healing diets out there, with all the hype about eat this not that, chewing and eating with mindfulness is something we so often overlook.

I started eating this way years ago and I have to tell you it was game changing. Capitol H huge. I don’t know how this lands for you. It may seem like just another daunting task to add to the already piled high list of things you’re doing for your IBD, but I promise you, just like the way I eat now, chewing and eating mindfully have become second nature to me. I never have to think to myself, how many bites did I have? It just happens. And I know it’s 100% habit because I’m always the last person to finish eating. It’s OK to be that person. In fact it’s awesome to be that person.

So chew well, chew mindfully, think about some of the tactics we went over today and watch how it has a positive impact on how you feel.

Until we meet again, I’m wishing you a cheeky and healthy gut healing journey. Chat soon!

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This podcast, video, and blog post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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